Barbarian Days

Barbarian Days

A Surfing Life

Paperback - 2016
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Surfing only looks like a sport. To initiates, it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a demanding course of study, a morally dangerous pastime, a way of life. Raised in California and Hawaii, Finnegan started surfing as a child. He has chased waves all over the world, wandering for years through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa. A bookish boy, and then an excessively adventurous young man, he went on to become a writer and war reporter. Barbarian Days takes us deep into unfamiliar worlds, some of them right under our noses -- off the coasts of New York and San Francisco. It immerses the reader in the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships annealed in challenging waves.
Publisher: New York, NY : Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2016.
Copyright Date: ©2015
ISBN: 9780143109396
Characteristics: 447 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm


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2016 Pulitzer Prize for Biography

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Aug 22, 2019

Throughout my life, having lived near the coast, I've known more than a handful of surfers. Not until I moved to Portland, did I meet someone who explained his love of surfing in terms of what he saw and felt in the water. William Finnegan's book does this very thing. He writes beautifully about what he experiences out in the ocean. He describes the technical details of getting to a wave and what happens once you catch one. The thing he didn't describe, which my friend emphasized, was the relationship with the animals who lived in the sea. That one would interact with otters, dolphins, fish, birds and others would truly make it magical.

This book is not just about surfing, although it plays a huge role in Finnegan's life. It is about other things, and how he traveled through life.

Mar 18, 2019

This one took me a little while to get thru, but the reward was worth it. Read past the first 50 pages, and then enjoy the ride around the world this memoir will take you on.

DBRL_Jeremiah Mar 30, 2018

I love Finnegan's work for The New Yorker, and I had read a couple of his pieces on surfing in that magazine—but I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I don't surf, never have, and likely never will, but Finnegan's meditation on the waves in all their complexities is nature writing par excellence. The one thing that grates while reading this, at least for me, is his seeming narcissism—so many adventures! so confident!—but his honest self-assessment counteracts these perceptions. He cops to his privilege, as much as one can, and even mocks his addiction for fear-and-adrenaline-inducing surf.

diesellibrarian Nov 27, 2017

Growing up landlocked, I had no chance at becoming a surfer. Nevertheless, I have always been endlessly fascinated by every aspect of surfing. Now well into my middle age, I know that I will never be more than a "kook," but that hasn't quelled my enthusiasm for this beautiful vocation. "Barbarian Days" helped me to understand what it means to be a surfer: it's the ever-present draw of the wave. It's a thread woven into the fabric of one's life: an underlying theme that colours every decision, every choice. Finnegan beautifully captures the essence of the surfer's life, unpacking it in such a way that even us "kooks" can grasp the joy and beauty and its inextricable connection to danger and loss. There are broader lessons here, and something to meditate upon (for me, at least), for years to come.

For other great autobiographical surf writing check out "Caught Inside" and "On A Wave."

Nov 17, 2017

Finnegan not only has a life time's experience to tell of chasing waves but also the analytical rigour of an excellent writer to embellish his story with retrospection and introspection. His love of surfing approaches an art form in its obsessive attention but remains highly entertaining to read.

Aug 16, 2017

Clearly the best surfing odyssey written to date. Finnegan is a very fine writer, and a well-read writer. There are some highly educated surfers around the world, and I am heartened that someone with a literary cast of mind finally decided to tell his tale in well articulated prose, at times invigorating, even beautiful. I also enjoyed the fact that the story is not filled with drug-crazed adventures punctuated by titillating sexual exploits that so often mar much of the surfing opus. Since I am the same age as the author, I could fully identify with much of the culture in which he found himself, especially the California surf culture in which I played a very nominal role, but fondly remembered. I've also visited many of the places mentioned in Finnegan's adventures, which added to the thrill of reliving a surfing life, though mine did not last as long as Finnegan's. The writing is so good that even non-surfers will find much to enjoy here. It's a great ride.

Jul 01, 2017

If you're not a surfer, may be a bit too technical. Lots of wave talk.

Jun 06, 2017

I couldn't get into it... I really tried, got all the way to chapter six. I think the author has so much to share about his experiences that it got lost in translation a bit. I am also going to agree with the comment below, and say this is more a man's book. I am a 23 year old female and although I appreciated the superb writing, I couldn't stay with or follow the story.

Mar 26, 2017

Won the Pulitzer, a memoir of an obsessive surfer who traveled the world looking for that perfect wave. He is about my age so following the political landscape of his life was interesting but this is really a man's book.

Nov 10, 2016

Interesting and well-written account of the life of a die-hard surfer. Having lived and surfed in the same era, there was much to relate to, and much more of interest to those of us who veered away from the surfing life as we took more conventional paths, often wondering---and sometimes dreaming---what life would have been life if we instead took off on that lifelong surfing safari. Finnegan lets us share the journey of a the hard core surfbum.

Drags in places, but otherwise compelling.

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Mar 29, 2017

This is a memoir of Finnegan's middle school years through his middle age years. He describes the intricacies of surfing, reading the waves -- their shapes, colors, movements, textures, sounds, starting and ending points, etc. -- and responding to them. He describes his responses in terms of his body's, his mind's, his heart's, his soul's reactions and adjustments. He spent several years traveling the world looking for excellent waves, all the while learning and respecting the local personalities and cultures. Surfing was everything. His attention to the smallest detail conveys how important those details were, and makes for fascinating reading. I was reminded of The Boys in the Boat and, to a lesser extent of H is for Hawk, both of which I liked very much.

After his round the world surfing stopped, the book dragged a bit -- most of life is not as interesting and surfing (because it's not? or because we don't focus on the details?). But it won me over again when he reconciled his new "old guy" approach to surfing with his regular life.


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